Indonesia: One million on strike
Amazing! There is no other word that can describe the situation on October 3. Workers all over Indonesia went on strike and took to the streets. This first national general strike in half a century truly raises expectations and hopes that it will be a turning point for the Indonesian labour movement.
More than 1 million workers struck in more than 20 districts and 80 industrial zones. Ports and industrial zones were blocked. Workers conducted factory “sweepings” to rally other workers to strike as well. (“Sweeping” is a recent militant tactic often used by Indonesian workers, whereby they go from factory to factory to rally other workers to strike, often forcing the owners to open the factory gates and stop productions).Where owners prevented their workers from joining the strike by closing the factory gates, masses of workers from outside took down those gates to liberate their brothers and sisters. The following short reports give a picture of the militancy of the workers and the dimension of this general strike.
Batam and Riau
Tanjung Uncang industrial zone in Batam was completely shut down since early morning, with thousands of workers striking and rallying on the streets. About ten to twelve thousand workers from 200 factories in that industrial zone struck. Akta, Tanjung Uncang SPSI union leader, said: “Tanjung Uncang is empty. Workers didn’t go to work. We asked them to strike because we in Tanjung Uncang are really victims of low wages.”
At the Muka Kuning industrial zone, all manufacturing companies stopped their operation. No one dared open their factories because the mass strike was so big and widespread. Since 6.30 in the morning, workers of FSPMI union have gathered to blockade the streets. “From all this area, there are 25 thousands workers taking strike action,” said Suprapto, Garda Metal FSPMI Batam union coordinator.
Since early morning in all industrial zones in Batam (Muka Kuning, Tanjung Uncang, Kabil, Sekupang, and Batu Ampar), thousands of workers conducted “sweepings” to rally other workers who were still working to go on strike. In total, there were more than 40 thousand workers striking. After demonstrating in those industrial zones, workers from all corners moved to the Batam Mayor’s office. There, police and soldiers had been waiting since morning with shields, batons, and rattan (a flexible whip-like stick from the stems of the rattan palm and used as an implement of punishment). Barbwire had been set up to protect the mayor’s office, challenging the workers. Finally, the mayor invited the workers to a dialogue. With more than usual protocol, the mayor promised that he would meet all the demands of the workers.
In Karimun district, thousands of FSPMI workers from 7 factories tried to force their way into the parliament building. However, they were stopped by the security forces and pushing and shoving ensued.
Meanwhile, the head of the Riau Chamber of Commerce, Johanes Kennedy, arrogantly said that “the method of actions done by the workers display arrogance, not ethical, and not sympathetic.” If Johanes was talking about confidence then it is clear that today the workers with their general strike have gained massive confidence. Today, the workers have the right to be arrogant. Batam workers have shown that they are the ones who hold power and can stop the wheels of production. Angrily, Johanes threatened the workers, “This can no longer be tolerated.” He couldn’t believe how the workers dared to stand up and fight.
Bekasi is one of the most important industrial areas in Indonesia. It is responsible for 70% of non-oil-and-gas export production. In the past year, industrial zones in Bekasi have been the centre of labour movement activity in Indonesia. Their radical actions have been an inspiration for workers in other areas. Today, they are the vanguard of the Indonesia proletariat. Bekasi is the centre, the most concentrated point of this general strike.
All of the industrial zones in Bekasi (MM2100, EJIP, Delta Silicone, Hyundai, Lippo Cikarang, dan Jababeka) were completely shut down. The FSPMI union estimated around 500 thousand workers on strike in Bekasi. Meanwhile, 2300 police were deployed to secure the 23 strike points in Bekasi.
In the MM2100 industrial zone, thousands of workers had been demonstrating since 7.30 in the morning. Workers from PT TAS (beverage factory), PT Lotte (candy factory), PT Denso (car parts factory), Astra Honda Motor (motorcycle parts factory), PT JSSI (steel processing factory), and others went on strike. From PT TAS alone they were 1200 workers. “Almost all factories in this area have stopped production. All workers are on the streets,” said a worker from Astra. It was not only production workers who went on strike, non-production staff also participated in the strike, like Ana Damayanti and tens of her friends who worked as administration staff for PT JSSI. Riding motorcycles and on foot, the workers continued their rallies and “sweepings”. At 2pm, they gathered at the entrance of the industrial zone, just a couple hundreds of metres from the Cibitung highway gateway, causing a traffic jam. At 4pm, Andi Gani Nenawea, leader of KSPSI union, ended the strike. He closed his speech with a warning to the government: “Today we didn’t enter the highway. But, if the government doesn’t fulfill their promises, we will enter the highway with even bigger masses.”
In the Jababeka industrial zone, tens of thousands of workers from KASBI, SPSI, FSPMI, FPBJ, SPN and other unions went on strike. Police estimated 23 thousand workers in Jababeka struck, but photos and videos showed more. From PT Unilever alone, there were 1400 outsourcing workers who went on strike. “If we, the outsourcing workers, go on strike, the production will stop because we work in the important sectors of the company,” said SPAI-FSPMI PT Unilever union leader, Siyanto. Tens of thousands of Jababeka workers had gathered since 9 in the morning. They then conducted “sweepings” going from factory to factory. Tens of thousands of KASBI workers tried to take down the gates of the Pertamina (state-own oil company), but the presence of the army managed to stop that action.
In his interview with TV One News in the Jababeka industrial zone, the leader of KSPSI, Heri Purwanto emphasised: “We want to change the regime, change the system. If this regime, this system, today can no longer protect the people of Indonesia, why do we have to maintain it? The only way is for us to carry out a revolution, and we will cripple the economy of this country.” This was immediately responded to by hundreds of workers around him with a loud cheer “Long live the workers”.
Meanwhile, in Jakarta, 3000 workers from different unions gathered in front of the Jakarta provincial parliament building. From there, the workers had a long march to the Ministry of Labour office.
Around 100 thousand workers in Tangerang, another important industrial area in Indonesia, struck on this October 3rd General Strike movement. There were 27 points of action where workers demonstrated. In front of the Tangerang parliament building, workers gathered under the watchful eyes of the police. There they delivered speeches and sang labour songs.
However, in one factory, workers suffered violence from the police and the army. When the workers visited PT LG Elektronik to rally the workers there to strike, they were met by a line of police and soldiers. The workers tried to negotiate but failed. The police swiftly shot teargas canisters at the masses, and after that went after the workers with their shields and batons. Seven workers were injured.
As usual, to scare the workers, the Association of Indonesian Employers of Tangerang threatened to close down the factories if the workers continued their strike. “Every strike by the workers stops production. We would rather close down than suffering losses if the workers keep striking.”
Cilincing and Tanjung Priok
At the Berikat Nusantara Industrial Zone, thousands of workers went on strike. On foot and on motorcycles, they “swept” other factories. In one garment factory, PT Hyung Song, the workers took down the factory gate. Tens of police and security forces were helpless facing the action of thousands of workers. There was almost a clash but finally the owner was forced to let the workers strike.
Particularly noteworthy was the action of the women workers in the Berikat Nusantara Industrial Zone. The strike action was started by about 200 garment workers, mostly women. They then “swept” other factories and managed to free around 10 thousand workers to strike. This reminds us of the February Revolution in Russia, where it was started by women who then rallied their brothers to strike. This ended with the fall of the Tsar.
The workers then marched to Tanjung Priok port with 700 motorcycles and a container truck. Truck drivers, who were organised by the SBTPI union, also struck and shut down the port. Until the afternoon, the port was virtually empty. Striking workers and drivers blockaded the port and stopped any container trucks that were still operating. “We have asked all the trucks to stop operating. If there are still trucks that are operating, that means they didn’t hear our call. Therefore we stopped them,” explained the leader of the SBTPI union, Ilhamsyah.
Pulogadung, East Jakarta
At the industrial zone of Pulogadung, 75 thousand workers went on strike and shut down this area. They blockaded the entrances to this industrial zone. Since 7 in the morning, workers also went around from factory to factory to rally other workers to strike.
In one soap factory, PT Total, hundreds of workers took down the factory gate to release 50 workers who were still working there. At first workers were shouting from outside the factory. However, since the owner didn’t open the gate, hundreds of workers approached the gate and started shaking it. The steel gate finally went down. “Let’s go out, go out. One fate, one suffering. We still have motorcycles here,” shouted the workers. The soap factory workers welcomed the call and came out.
It is estimated that the industrial zone, that produces garments, pharmaceutical and electronic products and paper, suffered losses of hundreds of billions of Rupiah (hundreds of millions of dollars). “There are 373 factories here. On average each factory has revenues of Rp. 1 billion. If all the factories stopped operating, imagine how many hundreds of billions were lost,” complained an official from the Indonesian Employers’ Association East Jakarta, Bambang Adam.
In Bandung, thousands of workers surrounded the governor’s office since morning. A convoy of motorcycles came in waves from the Cimahi area. In front of the office, workers demanded the West Java Governor to immediately sign a moratorium letter to stop any outsourcing and contract work. In the afternoon, because of the massive pressure from the workers, Governor Ahmad Heryawan finally signed the moratorium letter, outlawing outsourcing in all 26 cities and districts of West Java. Thousands of workers cheered wildly as this statement was read before them.
Thousands of workers from 134 factories struck and took to the streets. They occupied the main streets of the BIC Cikopo Industrial Zone and virtually shut it down. Workers who were organised by FSPMI and SPSI also used their motorcycles to blockade entrances to factories.
Thousand of workers also surrounded the Purwakarta parliament building. After a tense meeting with workers representatives, the Purwakarta parliament speaker finally signed a letter of recommendation for 4 of the workers’ demands, to be sent to the IX Commission of the National Parliament, Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Labour.
About 500 workers from the SPBI Gresik union held a march to the Gresik parliament building. The workers on their motorcycles took to the streets with their big red SPBI flags. Leader of SPBI Gresik, Agus Budioni, said in his speech: “The demand to eradicate outsourcing and the contract system has been in the SPBI agenda even before the UU No.13/2003 labour law. Today’s general strike action is part of our long-fought struggle.”
A worker from Gresik, also a member of Militan, had this to say: “The October 3rd action has kindled the courage of the workers to fight against oppression, the courage that was previously suppressed by the bosses or even unions that supported the bosses. This shows the courage of the workers to display their class character. Workers of PT Karunia Alam Segar, PT Panalux, PT Aston Adi Jaya, PT Garam and PT Petrokimia, and many other workers wanted to join the action, but the bosses locked the gates to prevent workers from taking to the streets. However, these workers forced their way out, because of the accumulation of consciousness and anger against the system that oppresses them. This shows the revolutionary character of the workers. From the most advanced layers, there will be young workers who emerge and become the leadership of the revolution that will overthrown capitalism and build a new system, socialism.”
Thirty thousands East Java workers from many cities like Surabaya, Sidoarjo, Pasuruan, Mojokerto, and Gresik went on strike. Workers gathered at many points of action, such as the Governor’s office (2000 workers), Gedangan (5000 workers), and Sepanjang, Sidoarjo (2000 workers).
Members of Militan in Surabaya who took part in the action had this to report:
Thousands of workers organised by KSBSI in Makassar went on strike. With motorcycles, they had a convoy from Hertasning square to the South Sulawesi Governor’s office. Workers tried to enter the building to meet the governor. However, they were blocked by the police. They started shaking the gate to the office as they became impatient waiting for the governor. The governor apparently was not in the office. It was reported he was in a meeting in an undisclosed location.
“This is the fate of workers and people who want to convey their aspirations to the leader, who instead are only met with lower rank officials. It would be different if this is about a project that has a lot of money involved. Then there would be a serious response. Poor people and workers are forbidden to be prosperous,” said Samsuddin, an outsourcing worker from PLN Takalar, a state-owned electricity company. Angry because they couldn’t meet the government, workers blocked the streets and burned tyres.
Deli and Medan, North Sumatera
Around 5 thousand workers of Deli Serdang and Medan struck together. They directed their action to the North Sumatera Governor’s office. To anticipate the workers, the governor’s office was barricaded with barbwire and 1300 police were deployed.
Workers also “swept” the Medan II and Tanjung Morawa industrial zones. In one factory, a clash almost took place when the security forces prevented the workers from joining the general strike. Only 10 workers were allowed to participate. Workers outside the factory were enraged and forcefully took down the factory gate. The owner finally allowed all the workers to join the general strike.
Berau, East Kalimantan
Thousands of miners in Berau, East Kalimantan, also struck on 3rd October. Workers from many different unions united in this strike. Since morning, they have gathered in front of the Berau parliament building. From there, they marched to the Ministry of Labour office, and ended their march at the regent office. After being met by the Berau Regent, the workers ended their demonstration at 5pm. In their speeches, in addition to talking about the 3 main demands of the national strike, workers also demanded the fulfillment of Section 33 of UUD 45 (Indonesian constitution), which is the nationalisation of mining industries. Firmansyah, a worker from SBSI union, said in his speech that Indonesia is a country rich with minerals but its workers are far from prosperous.
Thousands of workers of PT Pertamina Balongan Indramayu (state-owned oil company) who are organised by KASBI also went on strike. Clashes took place when contract workers of PT Pertamina entered the office area to rally workers who were still working and the security forces tried to prevent this “sweeping” action.
The workers continued their strike action the next day and shut down the company. “Today is the second day we strike. By blockading all the entrances, we will prove that we are serious about our demands,” said Asrol, to rally the spirit of his fellow workers. On this second day, the workers blocked the entrance to PT Pertamina by parking 8 trucks that carry oil pipes. They let the air out of the tyres and took away the keys. Tension flared as soldiers came in to prevent the workers from blocking the entrance. However, the soldiers finally retreated in the face of thousands of militant workers.
In Subang, hundreds of KASBI and SPSI workers demonstrated in front of the ministry of labour office and parliament building. A field coordinator from KASBI, Rahmat Saputra, said that Subang is one of relocation zones for factory bosses because the minimum wage in Subang is very low, which is 825 thousand Rupiah per month (around $90 per month). The workers demanded an increase to 1.5 million Rupiah. Furthermore, masses from the Forum of Migrant Workers Families also participated in the action, demanding the government pay attention to the welfare of migrant workers and their families. (Note: there are 6 million Indonesian migrant workers, spread over Asia and Middle East).
Workers at the garment factory, PT BuniVittex, also protested. Workers demanded wage increases and social benefits for all their workers. According to Deni, one of the workers there, the company treated their workers inhumanely. For example, the workers are asked to pay from their own wages the cost of uniforms and the scissors needed for work. “Sometimes the cost of scissors and uniforms are deducted from our pay check,” said Dani. Workers then burned tyres and their uniforms in front of the factory.
Prabumulih, South Sumatera
Hundreds of oil workers from Pertamina struck and held a long march to the main Pertamina office. They also conducted “sweepings” to ask other workers to strike. “Let’s do a long march and “sweep” our friends who are not yet with us,” said Rujianto, the SBBP union leader, which was responded to with wild cheers from hundreds of his fellow workers. When they tried to enter the Pertamina office to rally their friends to strike, the gates closed on them. Workers then took down the gates, but then they were faced with a line of police.
And many others ….
There are many other locations that aren’t reported in this article, like Bogor, Depok, Semarang, Karawang, etc. There is even a report of a demonstration in Bali. In total more than 1 million workers struck that day. They shut down factories, oil companies, the streets, and ports across Indonesia.
The ruling class was somewhat caught off guard. They didn’t expect the general strike to take such a dimension. National parliament speaker, Marzuki Alie, demanded that the workers stop their strike. “If this continues, it will not be good for the investment climate,” said Marzuki. He seemed to echo the demand from the Asian Bank Development that immediately responded to the general strike by telling the government not to abolish outsourcing. “Outsourcing has a lot of benefits, especially for company’s efficiency, so don’t abolish it,” said Edimon Ginting, an economist for ADB.
Meanwhile, the once heroine of the Indonesian working class, Dita Indah Sari, who is now working for the Ministry of Labour, expressed her regret that the general strike took place. She said that the workers did not have a strong reason to have a general strike. “We have opened all doors for dialogue, so there is no reason at all to strike,” said Dita. It is very ironic that when such a historical event took place, Dita, who was instrumental in building the Indonesian labour movement since the dictatorship period, now found herself on the other side of the barricade.
The end of the General Strike, but not the end of everything
The general strike was initially planned to last for 5 days. However, on the night of 3rd October, Said Iqbal, President of KSPI, ended the strike. “I would like to state that the general strike action all over Indonesia stopped today at 4pm and there won’t be any strike action for tomorrow and the day after,” said Said. He said that in the next 2 weeks they are expecting the result of their negotiation with the government, especially about outsourcing and wages.
However, we shouldn’t despair. This 3rd October has become a historic day for the Indonesian labour movement. A big step has been taken by the labour movement. The next task for the workers is to build on the confidence that they have won and prepare themselves for the next battle against the capitalists. In the next general strike, the workers will be more prepared, organisationally and politically. In the future, should the workers have their own labour party, imagine what they can achieve with a general strike!